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By Elise Wilkerson, Sara McAlister, Lindsey Foster, and Wendy Y. Perez

Research Background

Culturally responsive and sustaining education (CRSE) is a humanizing approach to learning that explores the relationship between historical and contemporary conditions of inequality and ideas that shape access, participation, and outcomes for learners (CR-SE NY State Framework). It was first developed as a response to pedagogies that sought to strip children and youth from non-dominant cultures of their language and cultural practices in the name of narrowly-defined academic success. The work of scholarship spanning over two decades highlights key features of culturally responsive and sustaining education:

  1.  Youth and family voices are essential for informing the educational experience (Simpkins, & Riggs, 2014)
  2. Educators must possess a deep understanding of their culture and the cultural ways of knowing of their students (Ladson Billings, 1995; Paris, 2012)
  3. Critical consciousness is a key feature of pedagogy that helps students to connect historical and contemporary events as a way to engender engagement and skill-building that fosters learning (Ladson Billings, 1995)
  4.  Culture is not static; it is fluid and pedagogical approaches should be fluid as well (Paris, 2012)
  5. Young people create and push culture and youth culture should be leveraged as an asset for learning (Paris, 2012; Alim & Paris, 2017; Alim, Paris, & Wong, 2020).

While many approaches to CRSE have been conceptualized for school environments, limited research exists on how these approaches and practices can inform out-of-school-time (OST) programs for children and youth. Yet, OST programs provide youth opportunities to — 4 — develop leadership skills, engage in social action, co-design programming, cultivate critical consciousness and socioemotional skills, and connect with and affirm their intersectional identities (Murray & Milner, 2015).

Like schools, OST programs have the potential to embody assimilationist, deficit frameworks that seek to rinse students of their cultures (Miller, 2020). Implementing a new program or redesigning an existing program that embodies CRSE features requires intentionality and strategic planning. While most youth-serving adults have the desire to support the wellbeing of young people, they may struggle to design CRSE programs, accidentally tokenizing students or reducing students’ culture to superficial celebrations of food and holidays. Youthserving adults may not know where to start or what some of the practices could be.

In this brief, we synthesize findings from three studies focused on understanding how community-based organizations and youth leadership councils can shape young people’s learning, leadership, well-being, and critical consciousness. The Youth Organizing Trajectories Study (YO Study) was a three-year longitudinal study that examined how youth organizing programs fostered critical consciousness and developmental competencies. The Exploring Youth Leadership Councils Study (YLC Study) was a three-year longitudinal study that examined how Borough Student Advisory Councils, a type of youth leadership council, fostered critical consciousness and developmental competencies. And, the Racial Identity Study examined how a cohort of five organizations enacted culturally responsive practices to educational problems and how those practices support developmental outcomes such as racial identity development and social-emotional well-being. We offer recommendations for practices that youth-serving adults can implement to cultivate culturally responsive and sustaining OST programs, whether designing a program from conception or redesigning a status quo program.


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